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Archive for the ‘soup’ Category

Last night as the wind whistled outside my window and the city prepared for Sandy to blow through, I flopped into bed and flipped open Tamar Adler‘s book which I’ve been slowly devouring. The bookmark was stuck between pages 198 and 199. The book opened to Chapter 17, fittingly called “How to Weather a Storm.” (Fair warning: this post might read like a dissertation with its quotes galore, but the passages I cite are too good, their sentiment too true, for any clumsy paraphrasing. I hope you’ll understand.)

Right up front in the introduction to her book, Adler explains that she modeled An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace after MFK Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf. She describes her inspiration as “a book about cooking defiantly, amid the mess of war and the pains of bare pantries.” There’s no war around here, but there is a mess outside. The pantry may not be bare, at least not in my kitchen, but there’s nothing like a hurricane to make  you think about what might happen if  you have to subsist on whatever you have on hand with little hope of rapid replenishment.

Reading Adler’s chapter on eating out of cans in the face of little, I was reminded of my favorite chapter in Luisa Weiss‘s first book, My Berlin Kitchen, another recent bedtime companion. The chapter is called “Depression Stew” and the way I read it, it’s about the loneliness of Paris. I couldn’t help but relate to Luisa’s story (we met a few weeks ago, so I think it’s OK for us to be on a first name basis) of living in Paris and wanting to be an insider, wanting to have someone to share the city with. She writes, “I went to classes by day and walked the streets alone in the evening, sometimes ducking into one of the city’s myriad one-room movie theaters tucked away in small side streets to escape the increasing seclusion I felt.”  I too spent time in Paris, often alone, often lonely. One summer, I too took (dance) classes and wandered the streets on my own.  And while I did go on a few dates with a guy, when it was quickly clear that there was no future for us, he said, “I’ll never forget you as the girl who was lost in Paris.”

Reading Luisa contemplate the “Depression Stew” she made in her barely-wingspan Parisian kitchen felt familiar to me. Luisa had learned to make Depression Stew from her father who liked to think of it as “the kind of food  you’d eat during a financial depression, cheap and filling and healthy.” When she made it that year in Paris, she felt  that the stew could also serve as “a remedy for more personal lows.” Even though I preferred to eat out with a book that summer rather than cooking anything in the similarly tiny kitchen of my one-room rented Left Bank apartment, I knew what she was talking about.

When I first bookmarked Luisa’s stew, I thought I’d make it when I was feeling a bit blue and I’d write about being lost in Paris. But after reading Adler’s Chapter 17 last night and watching reports of the strengthening storm and its havoc this morning, it seemed more fitting to write about the stew’s humble beginnings.

I imagine Adler would approve heartily of Depression Stew. She recommends that you “get out a pot and a pan, and decide that no matter how hard the wind is whipping at the windows, you will be well fed through the storm.” She talks a lot about canned tomatoes and canned beans. The latter she says need a good long simmer in olive oil to “become really likable.” Even better if you cook them up with onion and garlic. And that’s where Luisa’s stew begins. And then Luisa fills out the aromatics with whatever is in the fridge – carrot, potato, zucchini – and a can of tomatoes. Luckily I had everything I needed for Depression Stew. A couple of carrots that were a bit droopy, a handful of potatoes a bit soft, half a baguette a bit stale — food that might otherwise be headed for the garbage had this stew not saved them.

I’m weathering hurricane Sandy just fine so far. Thanks, ladies, for keeping me company. I’m very lucky.

PS – a quick thank you to What’s Cookin for sharing my blog with their readers

Hurricane Stew

This is one of those clean-out-the-fridge-and-pantry recipes. Use whatever vegetables you have on hand, just make sure to add the harder ones (e.g., carrots, parsnips) early and the more delicate ones (e.g., potatoes, zucchini) later. If you have a bit of stale (or fresh) baguette on hand, cut it into thin slices and make garlic toasts to float on top of the stew. If you have lemon and parsley lying around, a quick squeeze and a sprinkle really brightens up the dish. 

Serves 2-3

- 3 T olive oil, and more for drizzling

- 1 medium yellow onion

- 4 cloves garlic, divided

- 2 carrots

- 5-6  baby Dutch yellow potatoes (or 1-2 large potatoes; any thin-skinned potatoes will do)

- 1 28-oz can peeled plum tomatoes

- salt

- red pepper flakes/crushed red pepper

- 1 15.5-oz can Roman beans (also called cranberry beans and barlotti beans)

- stale baguette

- lemon

- parsley

Heat. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat.

Dice. While the oil is heating, dice the onion and mince three cloves of garlic.

Cook. Add the onion and garlic and cook,  stirring every once in a while, for about five minutes until the onion is soft and translucent. If the onion starts to brown, turn down the heat.

Dice again and keep cooking. While the onion is cooking, dice the carrots and potatoes. Add them to the pan and keep cooking for another five minutes or so. Continue to stir every once in a while.

Squish and keep cooking. This is the really fun part. Pour the tomatoes in a large bowl and squish the tomatoes  between your fingers, squeezing to break them up into small pieces. If there are any cores that feel rough, throw them out.  Add the tomatoes, salt to taste, and a shake or two of red pepper flakes to the pot. Continue to cook for another five minutes. And continue to stir periodically.

Drain and keep cooking. Drain the beans and rinse in cold water several times. Add them to the pot, stir gently, and bring the whole thing to a simmer. Turn the heat to low and keep the stew at a slow simmer for about 30 minutes. Cover the pot and add extra water if the stew gets too thick.

Toast. Slice the stale baguette – you’ll want two pieces per person. Cut the last garlic clove in half and rub the cut edge on the baguette slices. Then drizzle or brush each slice with olive oil. Pop the baguette slices on a piece of aluminum foil and into a toaster (or regular) oven set to 350ºF. Toast for a few minutes on each side until the baguette starts to brown.

Serve. Squeeze lemon juice over the stew right before serving. Spoon into a bowl, sprinkle with minced parsley, and float a couple of pieces of toast  on top.

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shades of green

Taking up residence in my refrigerator is a cityscape of green jars. There’s the blender jar of cucumber gazpacho. To its left is a small jar of garlic scape oil topped by an even smaller jar of mint oil. To its right, a tall jar of mint- and chive-flecked labne, but that’s another story.  The  “buildings” are nestled between a garden of pea shoots and tendrils with their young white blossoms and a wild tangle of mâche and arugula destined for a salad.

This shelf reminds me of my freshman  year of college. No, I didn’t have a fridge full of greens to fuel my studies. Instead I had a roommate who was going through a preppy stage. In honor of her, my then boyfriend created a game called “J. Crew shades of green.” It consisted of a piece of paper with a column of twenty-five green color swatches (cut from a catalog) arranged from dark to light like a Panetone paint color chart and a column of twenty-five names. There was jade and apple and oasis and gatsby. It was a matching game.

Assembled, the contents of my refrigerator jars transform into a sea of wave crest gazpacho splattered with monterey pine mint oil and cyprus garlic scape oil. And then I got to wondering – what would those colors be in Crayola? How about sheen gazpacho with Christmas mint oil and inchworm scape oil?

The game makes for endless hours of entertainment.

Colors aside, this summer soup came to me in the form of an appetizer a few weeks ago before the best-meal-on the Cape dinner at Ten Tables where it was served over a shock of spiced wine (J. Crew) jazzberry jam (Crayola) beet cubes. At home a few days later with a whir of the blender, a few pulses of the food processor, and some toasting and slicing, I had a very pretty, wave crest-monterey pine-cyprus-tinted Jackson Pollack canvas of my own.

Cucumber mint gazpacho

I used as a starting point another cucumber gazpacho recipe from a few summers ago, and added almonds and mint. Soaked bread thickens the gazpacho and, most importantly, makes it really creamy without any cream (see salmorejo). You might need to make this in two batches, depending on the size of your blender jar. It did fit in my standard Kitchenaid 56 ounce (7 cup) blender. The soup’s flavors intensify with time and I like it best after a night in the fridge. It will thicken up a bit, so be prepared to add a little water before serving. I’ve included the recipes for mint oil and garlic scape oil – the soup is special without them, but even special-er with them and the leftovers will find their way into other dishes for days.  

If you want to be trendy, serve the soup in tall shot glasses or tumblers. Or, go old school and use bowls.

Makes 6 cups

- 1 1/2 pounds thin-skinned cucumbers — about 10 small Persian cucumbers or 2 seedless/English cucumbers

- 1/2 C cold water

- 1 small onion or 1/2 large onion

- 5 garlic scapes (or 2-3 cloves regular garlic)

- 1 T tightly packed mint leaves (about 30)

- 3/4 C almonds (skinned), divided

- 1/4 C olive oil, plus more for drizzling

- 1/4 C red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar

- kosher salt

- 1 C stale  bread, cut into cubes. I’ve found challah or ciabatta to be best. You can keep on some crust, but not too much or the soup will come out less creamy, more gritty

- Optional: mint oil,  garlic scape oil (recipes below)

Puree. Rough chop the cucumber (I keep the skin on) and add to the blender jar with the cold water. Puree until smooth. Rough chop the onion and scapes and add to the blender jar with the mint leaves. Puree again. Then add 1/2 cup of almonds, olive oil, and vinegar, and keep pureeing until the entire mix is smooth.

Soak. Add the bread cubes to your blender and let them soak up the liquid for at least 30 minutes. When they have softened up, puree again until very smooth. Add salt to taste.

Chill. You want to serve this cold, so refrigerate for at least an hour (straight in the blender jar) before serving. The soup will thicken a bit, so you may need to add a little cold water and blend until it’s the consistency  you want.

Toast. Toast the almonds until they just start to darken (5 minutes in a 350ºF oven). Let them cool and then pulse in a food processor a few times (or chop by hand). Sprinkle over soup.

Get fancy. Garnish as much as you’d like (see recipes below). Drizzle with olive oil, mint oil, and/or garlic scape oil.

Flavored oils

Make sure to use a very mild oil – I use grapeseed oil – so that the flavor of the herbs shines. An olive oil will be too overpowering. The oils can be used immediately, but an overnight stay in the fridge will intensify the flavors. There will be leftovers. The mint oil is great drizzled on salads, asparagus, or a nice steak. I love spooning a little bit of garlic scape oil on an egg in the last minute of frying and then wilting some arugula in the hot pan. I’ve also thrown it over fresh pasta with a little bit of grated parmesan.

Mint oil.  In a food processor, puree  1/2 cup packed mint leaves in 1/2 cup grapeseed (or other mild) oil.

Garlic scape oil. In a food processor, puree 15 garlic scapes in 1 cup grapeseed (or other mild) oil.

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the weekend end

As I send this post out into the world, I’m sure most of you are getting ready for the weekend. I like to think that if weekend were a Jewish holiday, Thursday night would be “erev weekend” – the night before the weekend begins and the time to start celebrating.

But, I’m not here to talk about the beginning of the weekend or Friday night dinner. Today, we’re talking about the end of the weekend ritual. The Sunday search through the fridge, quick look on the web, consultation with a towering stack of cookbooks followed by a flurry of knives and cutting boards and pots and pans.

Soup is almost always on the agenda these days as the temperature drops below freezing and I am oh so thankful that I have an indoor parking garage.

For the past two weeks, the weekend end ritual fell on a Monday. A Monday! Twice in a row!

Last Monday, I came home to an empty fridge after hours and hours of flying back from Vienna. A quick trip to the store with an idea or two in mind, and a beautiful parsnip parsley soup emerged (thanks Jess).

This Monday was the end of another particularly joyously long weekend. After waking up late,  I settled on my sofa with a steaming cup of coffee, some toast spread with cheese that tastes better than butter, a pile of cookbooks, and my laptop.

The rummaging turned up a few pounds of  butternut squash, already cleaned and peeled and begging to be used. On the door of the fridge, a bouquet of cilantro in a glass of water. In a mason jar, preserved lemons that I made a few weeks ago, awaiting their debut. In the freezer, broth made last month from a couple of roasted chickens.

The flipping through pages, both virtual and real, turned up a hearty squash soup with a kick (you know how I like a kick).

The hearty would come from beans.

The kick from Middle Eastern spice.

Deciding to hibernate for the day, I made everything the slow, (almost) no shortcuts, from scratch way. I soaked and boiled and cooked and roasted and processed and blended.

The soup warmed the apartment and filled it with the scent of delicious.

Happy erev weekend!

Butternut squash and cannellini soup with chermoula

This soup is a mesh of a few difference recipes I found. The idea for using cannellini beans came from Bon Appetit. The spice mixture is based on Maroud Lahlou‘s red chermoula (Moroccan spice paste)and Yotam Ottolenghi‘s ultimate winter couscous.

This soup is a whole day affair, at least the way I made it with dried beans, oven-roasted squash, and chermoula.  But don’t be daunted. There are a few shortcuts you can take that should give you a very good soup in around an hour tops. First, use canned beans – you’ll just need to saute the onion and garlic in the soup pot before adding the rest of the ingredients. Second, don’t roast the squash. Third, skip the chermoula spice paste and just add half the amount of each of the spices directly to the soup with the squash.  

I use preserved lemons here. You can buy them jarred or make them from scratch. To make then from scratch, quarter lemons (regular or meyers) and layer them in a jar with tons of salt. Make sure the lemons are really tightly packed and have enough juice and salt to completely fill the jar. Let the jar sit in a cabinet for about a week and then transfer to the fridge for three weeks. Every few days, flip the jar upside down to mix everything around. Once the lemon rinds soften, they’re ready to use. When you want to add them to something, discard the pulp and only use the peel.

For the beans:

- 1 1/2 C dried cannellini beans or 4 C canned cannellini beans

- 1 bay leaf

- 1 onion

- 4 garlic cloves

- kosher salt

For the chermoula spice paste:

- 1/2 of a preserved lemon (~2 T chopped rind)

- 4 cloves garlic (~2 t chopped)

- 1 T cumin

- 2 t sweet paprika

- 1/2 t hot paprika

- 1/4 t cinnamon

- small bunch fresh cilantro (~2 T chopped)

- 2 T harissa

- 6 T crushed tomatoes

For the soup:

- 2 large butternut squashes (about 3 – 4 pounds total)

- olive oil

- 2 T cumin

- kosher salt

- 4 C chicken or vegetable broth

Make the beans. I used Michael Ruhlman’s instructions as a guideline.

Boil and soak. Pick through the dried  beans and remove any rocks or discolored beans. Bring to a  boil 3 parts cold water with 1 part dried beans (so, 4.5 C water, 1.5 C beans) and the bay leaf. Boil for 10 minutes and then turn off heat. Soak for an hour. Remove bay leaf, drain beans, rinse out pot, and add back the beans.

Simmer. Rough chop one onion, sliver 4 cloves of garlic, and add them to the beans. Fill the pot one inch over the beans with cold water (for this amount of beans, I used 6 cups of water). Simmer for 1 – 2 more  hours. When you can smell the beans and they’re almost tender enough (after 1.5 hour in my case), generously salt. By generously I mean a good palmful or two. The water should taste as salty as the ocean (similar to pasta water). Continue to cook until tender – you should be able to bite into them with almost no resistance. If the beans start to get mushy, it’s not a big deal because you’ll be pureeing the soup soon anyway.

Drain. Drain the cooked beans and onion and then add them back to the pot.

Make the chermoula.

Prep. Remove the preserved lemon peel from the flesh (slide your finger under the peel and the flesh should pop out pretty easily. Chop the lemon peel finely. Chop garlic.

Process. Put all the spices, cilantro, harissa, and tomatoes into a food processor (a mini one will do just fine). Pulse until everything comes together into a bright red paste.  Add salt to taste.

Make the soup.

Prep. Preheat oven to 450°F. Peel, seed, and chop squash into evenly sized chunks — the bigger the cubes, the longer they will take to roast; I typically cut into 3/4 – 1 inch chunks.

Roast. Cover cookie sheet with parchment. Spread squash out in single layer, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with cumin and salt, and shake around in the pan. Roast for 15-20 minutes, shaking the pan mid-way through to make sure the squash cooks evenly. The squash is ready when it’s nicely browned and yields easily with a fork.

Simmer. Add squash to the pot with the beans in it. Add half the chermoula or spices now and mix everything together. Pour in 4 C broth and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the broth (without any squash or beans) has a nice flavor.

Puree. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup.

Serve. Garnish with a nice scoop of chermoula, some cilantro, and a few very thin slivers of preserved lemons.

Or … make it the easy way.

Saute. In a large pot, heat the  olive oil until it glistens. Saute garlic and onion.

Add. Add half the amount of each ingredient in the chermoula spice paste directly to the pan and mix with the garlic and onion.

Add more. Add beans (drained and rinsed) and cubed butternut squash.

One more addition. Pour in broth.

Simmer. Bring the soup to a boil and then drop down to a simmer until the squash is tender.

Blend. Whir the soup with an immersion blender until smooth.

Eat. Garnish with a few sprigs of cilantro and dig in.

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carry me through

Welcome to 2012.

Before we get too far into the new year, I want to send out the recipe that carried me through the last few weeks of 2011. With the track record it has, I suspect it will carry me through the first weeks of 2012 as well.

I met this wild mushroom soup when my aunt Sessie made it for Thanksgiving. Two weeks later I made it for shabbat dinner, using the hugest pot I own – the bright green stockpot peeking out from behind the soup (thanks, mom and dad!). We ate the leftovers while making sufganiyot. Then I made it again for a huge crowd in Atlanta. Meira liked it so much she froze and brought the leftovers home in her suitcase.

One soup, three times, five weeks – that might be a record.

There’s not much to this soup and I’m almost embarrassed to call it a recipe. You start with olive oil, a basic mirepoix – the holy soup trinity of onion, carrots, and celery — and garlic. And then stock. And then thyme. And then pretty much every single mushroom in every single variety you can find in your grocery store. I’m talking pounds and pounds of mushrooms here. A few minutes with your immersion blender, and you’re done.

Wild mushroom soup for a crowd

(Addendum 10/30/12: This really makes a lot of soup, as in serves-almost-20-people a lot. Cut the recipe in half if you have 8-10 people. Or make the whole thing and freeze the rest. Thanks, Meira, for the feedback.)

Roughly chop an onion, a 1/2 pound of carrots, a bunch of celery, and 4-5 pounds of assorted mushrooms (I used white, cremini, shitake, and king oysters). Mince a few cloves of garlic. Cover the bottom of a large stockpot (like the green one my parents just gave me) with olive oil and heat until it glistens. Saute the onion until it become transparent. Add the garlic and saute for a few more minutes, being careful not to let it burn. Add the carrots and celery and 2 quarts of vegetable stock. Bring to a boil and then drop to a simmer over low to medium heat. When the vegetables start to soften, add in the mushroom and a few sprigs of fresh thyme (or a few large pinches of dry thyme). Keep simmering for about 2 hours until all of the vegetables are very soft. Puree with an immersion blender. Season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. This makes enough for 10 and can be doubled or tripled, as long as you have a bit enough pot.

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Welcome to week 3 of my cooking techniques course. We’ve already covered knife skills and eggs– now it’s time for stocks and soups. I like soups so much that my friends and I are thinking about having a soupotluck.

We made six soups in class on Sunday. Six. Whew. That’s a lot of soup.

Luckily, I am now well armed for any soupotluck coming my way.

This is a really long post with a lot of information. So for those of you who just glance at the pictures and go straight for the recipe, there are a few main takeaways.

1) Don’t boil stock

2) Don’t stir stock

3) Stock is a great dumping ground

4) Season, season, season: salt and acid are your friends

And for those of you who want to use my blog instead of dragging yourselves out of bed at 8 am on six Sundays in a row, here’s the summary of what we learned.

First we started off with a discussion of stocks. Fond de volaille (chicken stock), fond brun (brown veal or beef stock), fish fumet (fish stock), and vegetable stock. Chef reminded us that stock is a great dumping ground for things you might normally throw out: chicken carcass, limp carrots and celery, dark green leek tops. When you find yourself with some of these extra, less than perfect ingredients, chop them up and throw them in the freezer. And then when you have a few hours when you’re doing other stuff around the house, throw them in a soup pot with water and let them simmer away.

Stock adds gelatin and taste to sauces. The gelatin comes from the collagen in bones and joints. Due to the gelatin, when the stock has cooled, it will be a bit  jiggly. Vegetable stock has no gelatin and no jiggly.

Chef shared with us a whole bunch of tips.

First off: defrosting ingredients for your stock. Vegetables – you can just throw them right into the stock. Meats you want to thaw as slowly as possible. The best method is to put the frozen meat in the fridge for about 2 days (especially for a big roast … not that you’d put a roast in a stock, but you get the idea). Next best is “slacking” – run the meat under a steady stream of cold water until the meat thaws. Finally, the quickest way you can safely thaw is to a “warm slacking’ – place the meat in warm water and then replace the water when it becomes cold. Keep doing this until the meat thaws – this can take as little as 20-30 minutes. It’s a no-go on countertop thawing or microwaving.

When you add water to bones, make sure the water is cold (helps dissolve albumin protein which keeps the stock clear). The water level should just barely cover the bones (and aromatics) so that the stock is richer (too much water – too dilute). Simmer the bones for about 10 minutes and some scum should rise to the top – skim it off.

Don’t stir the stock because this will move the scum around and will be harder to skim. Don’t boil the stock because it’ll also move the scum around. If you don’t get most of the scum, the broth will be cloudy. Got that? Don’t stir and don’t boil. Because, really, who likes scum?

After your first scum skimming, add the aromatics vegetables and bouquet garni. Mirepoix is the classic aromatics mix: 50% onion, 25% carrot, 25% celery. But who needs to be classic? You can use leeks. Or zucchini. Or whatever you like. The smaller the bones you’re using, the quicker the stock will finish, and the smaller you’ll have to chop the veggies (more surface area means they cook more quickly). So for fish fumet, you’ll need a small brunoise.

Tie together thyme, bay leaves, and parsley stems into a bouquet garni. Want to be fancy? Wrap the boquet in a dark green leek leaf, and then tie it up. You can also use cheesecloth to make the bouquet easier to remove.

Don’t add salt when you’re making stock. You’ll be adding it to whatever you make with the stock.

You know that the stock is ready the bones start falling apart — it means that all of the collagen has broken down. This takes about 30 minutes for fish. About 3-5 hours for chicken. And a brown stock? A whopping 8 – 24 hours — just let it simmer (not boil!) overnight. Vegetable stock typically takes about an hour to make.

When the stock is done, strain it.  First strain out the big stuff through a colander. Do a second strain through a fine mesh anything – an expensive chinoise if you have one  (please ignore the racist French name) or cheese cloth.

Cool the stock down and then skim off the fat. Don’t put a bit pot right into the fridge – it’ll warm up everything else in the fridge. To cool it off, put it covered outside in the snow if it’s winter, or distribute across several smaller containers and bring it down to room temperature before putting it in the fridge.

Remember – once it has cooled, a good stock will be gelatinous.

We didn’t make our own stock due to time constraints, but we did use them as a basis for all of our soups.

Before we served our soups, we did a seasoning exercise with salt and acid. Except for a few situations, we didn’t add a drop of salt until we finished cooking the soups. We tasted the soups without any seasoning at all and then slowly added salt until the full flavors developed. A good rule of thumb is about 2-3 teaspoons per 2-4 quarts of soup. But the better rule of thumb is add salt until it tastes good.  We then added acid – either lemon juice, vinegar, or wine. The acid brings a bit of freshness to whatever you’re making, and also reduced the effects of salt. So, you may need to a bit more salt after the acid. Or, if you have added too much salt, acid can make your dish taste less salty.

Cream of potato soup with hazelnut pesto

This is a very rich soup. Very rich. I, who never like cream of anything soup, loved it. Just a little goes a long way. After cooking the potatoes, you’ll drain and puree them – make sure to reserve the liquid or you’ll be left with mashed potatoes – amazing mashed potatoes, but they won’t be soup. That pinch of nutmeg – Chef reminded us last week that nutmeg makes cream creamier and cheese cheesier.

We made hazelnut pesto since one of my classmates is allergic to pine nuts – I think this version is even better than the classic. And any leftovers can be thrown on pasta.

For the soup:

- 3 T unsalted butter

- 2 leeks

- 2 lbs potatoes (we used russet potatoes in class)

- 2 quarts cold vegetable (or chicken) stock

- 1 – 1 1/2 C heavy cream  (for a less rich soup, you can try half-and-half or light cream)

- Pinch of nutmeg

- Salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste

For the pesto:

- a handful of skinned hazelnuts

- 1/2 – 2/3 C olive oil

- 2-3 cloves of garlic

- 2 C packed basil leaves, washed and dried

- ~1/2 t salt

- 1/3 C grated romano cheese

- 1/3 C grated parmesan cheese

Prep soup. Finely chop whites and light green leaves of the leeks. Soak them in cold water and agitate a bit — the dirt will fall to the bottom. Peel the potatoes and cut into cubes..

Cook soup. Melt butter in a big saucepot over medium heat. Add leeks and cook until very soft (the light green leaves will turn translucent). Add potatoes and stock and cook covered until the potatoes are very soft (taste them to check texture).

Puree soup. Drain the potatoes and leeks but reserve the liquid. Don’t forget – reserve the liquid. Push the potatoes through a sieve, food mill, or potato ricer. (Unfortunately, an immersion blender will just make the potatoes gummy.) This is a little bit of a pain.

Mix soup. Mix the potatoes with enough cream and reserved liquid to make a creamy soup.

Season and taste soup. Add a pinch of nutmeg and pepper (white pepper if you really want the soup to be perfectly white). Add salt about a teaspoon at a time, tasting with each addition. When it tastes good, add some lemon juice, a few drops at a time. Taste again for salt.

Prep pesto. While the potatoes are cooking, toast the hazelnuts. Hopefully they’re peeled, but if they’re not, put them in a paper bag when they’re still hot, close the top, and let them steam. A quick rub in a towel should do the trick for removing the skins.

Puree pesto. In a food processor, puree the hazelnut with 2 T olive oil until you get a smooth paste. Add the garlic and process again until smooth. Add basil and salt and keep processing. Then, very slowly alternate cheeses and olive oil a little at a time until  you get a very smooth puree. Add salt to taste.

Eat. Top soup with a nice spoonful of pesto.

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but first

Today was stocks and soups day in my cooking class. There will be much more on that later, but first, a quick post and recipe.

Last night was closet cleaning out time.

Actually, it’s always closet cleaning out time at my place. This time, the cleaning extended to the fridge and pantry. I used up 4 cans of black beans, a can of crushed tomatoes, a bunch of onions and garlic, and some labne from the fridge.

Voilà – soup.

Black bean soup with cumin labne

The inspiration for this soup came from Smitten Kitchen’s own black bean soup with toasted cumin crema. I ditched the peppers, used canned beans instead of dried, added tomatoes, and substituted labne for the crème fraîche. My soup is thinner and more  brown in color (due to the tomatoes).

- olive oil

- 2 onions

- 3T chopped garlic (3-4 cloves)

- 1 T chopped chipotle pepper in adobo sauce (this was about a single chipotle pepper plus adobo sauce)

- 1 T (or more) cumin

- 1 C crushed canned tomatoes

- 4 15.5 oz cans black beans (I used Goya)

- 5-6 C water

- lime juice

- labne (thick middle eastern yogurt – similar to sour cream)

Prep. Chop onions and garlic. Finely chop chipotle. Drain beans and sprinkle with some baking soda (helps make them more digestible).

Cook. Saute onion in oil until brown, about 8-10 mins. Add garlic, chipotle (and all that adobo sauce), and spices. Cook over low-medium heat for another 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and water. Simmer about 15 minutes. Rinse the baking soda off the black beans, and dump them into the soup. After another 10 minutes, whizz with an immersion blender and add salt and lime juice to taste.

Top. Thin labne with some warm water and mix with cumin. Add a dollop of labne to the soup and sprinkle a little cumin on top.

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I failed my first test today.

Not the first one in my life, of course. Just the first one of my cooking techniques course.

Today was knife skills. After waking up at 8 am (on a Sunday!) and fortifying myself for the drive through the first inches of snow on the ground (in October!) with a strong cup of coffee and over easy egg on toast, I sat myself down on a little chair with a little arm desk attached. I felt like I was back in high school.

Sitting in these little chairs, we learned the anatomy of a knife from tang to tip. How to hold a chef’s knife. How to sharpen a knife. How to test the sharpness of a knife by slicing right through a piece of paper.

We learned knife etiquette. Keep knives sharp. Always cut away from yourself. Never hand a knife to another chef; place it on the table and let him pick it up himself. Walk with your knife pointed downward. “A falling knife has no handle; do not attempt to catch it.” Clean and dry your knives as quickly as possible. Never put your knives in a dishwasher. Keep knives sharp.

We chose our knives and made our way over to a large stainless steel table set with a pile of vegetables at each of a dozen stations. We wrapped an apron around our waists and tucked a towel in the ties. I positioned myself in front of the stove and salamander to keep warm. We set our cutting boards down on a cloth so they wouldn’t move, placed a dough scraper under the right side of the board.

We practiced holding our knives: choke up on the bolster, just in front of the handle. We practiced our “claw” hand – curling our left fingers under and our thumbs in to hold our vegetables without slicing off a finger.

And then we set to work. We cried our way through a fine chop of an onion. We minced garlic and turned it into a paste with the tip of our knives.

We made batonnets from potatoes – just a fancy name for cutting them into french fry shapes. Then we diced cubes of all sizes. We medium diced zucchini (1/2 inch all around). We seeded peppers and tomatoes and cut them into a small dice (1/4 inch). We julienned carrots and bruniosed – cut them into teeny tiny cubes (officially 1/8 inch). I quickly learned that uniformity will be my struggle.

Next we sliced. Carrots into rondelles (coins), half moons and quarter moons. Celery into diagonal/bias cuts. Fennel shaved as thin as possible (mandoline optional).

Herbs followed. A few quick chifonnades of parsley and we had a nice fine chop without bruithsing the leaves and losing the flavors onto the board. Tiny slices of chives – as thin as possible. Rosemary chopped super fine. Get the picture with herbs? Teeny teeny tiny.

We also suprêmed oranges. I ate mine.

Finally we got cooking. Vegetables into some olive oil with canned tomatoes. Pasta into a huge pot of boiling salted water, and then into the vegetables. Parsley, chives, and garlic paste into melted butter, then butter brushed onto a split baguette and tucked into the oven. Potatoes soaking in water dried off and dropped into hot oil. And then tossed with parmesan and rosemary.

And then we dined.

When I got home, I tested my knives. I held up in front of me a piece of paper between two fingers. I held my favorite knife above the edge of the  paper and slowly lowered it, waiting for the swift swoosh of a nice long cut. Instead, barely a crinkle. The paper buckled under the weight of the knife, crunched a bit, and remained intact. I honed the knife and tried again. Crunch. Second knife. Crunch. Third. Crunch. Fourth. Crunch.

Oy.

But after failure, success.

Using some of my new techniques and holding my (dull) knife correctly for once, I rough chopped many of the same ingredients from the morning into a stew for the week.

Moroccan beef and chickpea tagine.

I’m working on one pot meals. This is my first. And it’s good enough for company. Especially in front of a fireplace.

A tagine is a north African stew made in a dish called a tagine with a tight-fitting, pointy domed top. It is traditionally served over couscous. The inspiration for this recipe comes from my friend Sarah at FoodBridge (she actually made couscous from scratch!) and Deb at Smitten Kitchen and I used what I could find in my fridge. Butternut squash would be a great addition. When I made this, I made two versions – one with meat and one veggie. For the veggie version, I added extra chickpeas and made the stew in pretty much the exact same way. My friend Ilana told me that her Moroccan friends use really large chunks – whole carrots, potatoes and zucchini cut in half – and each person cuts off a few pieces of what they want. I’m going to try that next time.

If  you don’t want to use canned chick peas, you’ll need prepare dried chickpeas a day in advance. Sort through the dried chickpeas to remove any black ones or little stones. Soak them in at least three times the amount of water overnight (~10-12 hours) with a large pinch of baking soda. Rinse them off the next day and pour into at least double the amount of boiling water. Reduce to a simmer and cover for about 1.5  hours until tender but not falling apart. Drain and add to stew.

- 2-3 pounds of stew meat

- olive oil

- spices to taste (I like a lot of spice, and have provided approximate measurements):

- cumin (1-2 T)

- cinnamon (1/2 – 1 T)

- nutmeg (pinch)

- dried coriander (1/2 – 1T)

- turmeric (1/4 t)

- ginger powder (1/2 t)

- several saffron strands seeped 5 minutes in hot water)

- 8-10 C water

- 1 large onion

- 3-4 large carrots (or 2 large handfuls of baby carrots)

- 3-4  celery stalks

- 3-4 thin-skinned potatoes

- 2 large zucchini

- 3-4 C chickpeas

- salt and pepper

Braise. Heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of a large heavy pan (I used a large 6 3/4 quart cocotte) until it glistens. Cut meat into smaller pieces (3/4 to 1-inch cubes) and brown with half the spices. Add the water and bring to a boil. Scrape up the good bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Turn down the heat and simmer, covered, for 30-40 minutes until the meat starts to get tender.

Prep the vegetables. Rough chop onions into large pieces. Cut baby carrots in half or peel and cut carrots into 1-inch pieces. Cut celery into 1-inch pieces. Scrub the potatoes and dice into 1-inch cubes. Cut zucchini into large half moons.

Simmer. When meat is tender, add harder vegetables – onions, carrots, potatoes – and the rest of the spices, salt, and pepper. Simmer, covered, for another 30-40 minutes until vegetables are tender. Add zucchini and simmer for another 20 minutes. Add chickpeas in the last 10 minutes.

Serve. Pour meat, vegetables, and broth over couscous (or Israeli couscous, sometimes called p’titim in Hebrew or acini de pepe in Italian)

-

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foolproof

Contrary to what you may believe, I do, every once in a while, make simple dinners and desserts. More often than you’d think, in fact. I’ve been trying my hand at a few classics. I mean, classics are classic for a reason. They’re tried and true. Reliable. Foolproof. So it’s high time I shared with you a few classic, good old standbys that I can throw together after a long day of work and know that they’ll be good. This way, you can throw them together too.

This look into classic dishes was inspired by a slow food campaign at my company. Our café sold, for $10 (!!!), all the ingredients (except for a chicken) necessary for a hearty,  healthy dinner for a family. They even provided recipes — chicken, salad, greens and pasta, and fresh fruit for dessert. This was too good to pass up. So I lugged home my bag of groceries and laminated recipe card.

I made the chicken with just a few modifications, using chicken cutlets instead of a whole chicken and a nice addition of lemon juice. I used chard to make a minestrone. And voilà – a few dinners and lunches for the week.

These recipes aren’t rocket science, but they’re great ones to have in your repertoire. They pretty much use ingredients that are probably already in your fridge and pantry. The most difficult step is rough chopping some vegetables. And then you leave the dish to cook while you write a blog post. You just need to check on the chicken or soup every once in a while. C’est tout. That’s all there is, folks.

Chicken and root vegetables

This chicken takes about 45 minutes to an hour, from start to finish. Most of the time, the chicken is just baking in the oven and you need to check it every 10-15 minutes to mix and baste.

- 1+ pound of boneless skinless chicken breast (cutlets) – or you could use chicken parts, or boneless thighs

- 3 large carrots

- 3 large parsnips

- 4-5 celery stalks

- 1 onion

- several cloves of garlic

- 3-4 sprigs fresh rosemary

- olive oil

- 1/4 C lemon juice (to taste)

Prep. Preheat oven to 425ºF. Rinse chicken and pat dry. Rough chop all the vegetables – try to get them approximately the same size (except the garlic of course).

Fill. Scatter the vegetables in a pan large enough to fit them more or less in a single layer. Douse with olive oil (maybe 2T) and sprinkle generously with salt and freshly ground pepper. Season the chicken with salt and pepper too. Place the chicken on top of the vegetables and douse the chicken with a little more olive oil (another 1-2 T) – you can omit this if you are using chicken with skin. Pour in the lemon juice.

Bake. Bake the chicken for about 45 minutes, stirring and basting every 10-15 minutes. Add water or more lemon juice if you notice that there aren’t many juices and the corners of your pan are starting to burn. The chicken is officially ready when it reaches an internal temperature of 160ºF. I generally take mine out at 155ºF, but I’m wild and crazy. If the vegetables don’t cook as fast as the chicken, take the chicken out when it is ready and let the vegetables finish baking. Add the chicken back to the pan to warm back up for 5 minutes.

Eat. Take it out. Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes, and then serve it straight from the pan. You can even eat it out of the pan if no one is looking.

 

Chard minestrone

I found this recipe in the New York Times earlier this year. You can freeze the soup before you add the chickpeas and chard. When you want to eat, just re-heat and add in chickpeas and chard for about 10 minutes.

- olive oil

- 6 carrots

- 1 onion

- 1 T chopped garlic (yup, I use the stuff in the jar)

- several handfuls of chard – separate stems from leaves

- 1 6-ounce can tomato paste

- 7 C water

- 1 t dry thyme

- 2 bay leaves

- 1 parmesan rind

- 2 15-ounce cans garbanzo beans

- 1 C pasta

- extra parmesan

Prep. Rough chop the carrots and onions – try to get them approximately the same size chunks. Wash the chard really well. Remove the stems from the chard and rough chop as you would celery. Make a few lengthwise cuts in the chard leaves and then cut them widthwise into thin strips (“chiffonade” if you want to be all fancy about it).

Simmer. Pour enough olive oil to coat the bottom of your pot. Add all the vegetables except for the chard leaves. Saute until they start to soften, about 5 minutes. Add tomato paste, water, thyme, bay leaves, and parm. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked through. Add salt and pepper to taste. Be careful not to set the heat too high because the soup will  bubble over. Believe me – I know.

Store (optional). If you’re going to eat the soup at a later time, you can freeze or refrigerate the soup at this point. When you want to serve, proceed with the rest of the steps.

Simmer again. Rinse the chickpeas and add along with the chard leaves. Simmer for another 5-10 minutes until the chickpeas heat through and the chard wilts but still keeps its color.

Boil. Don’t boil the soup! Boil the pasta as directed, to just shy of al dente. Spoon into the soup right before serving (otherwise it will absorb the hot soup liquid and get overcooked and mushy).

Eat. Carefully. Let the soup cool off a bit before eating. I managed to burn my lip – and I was in pretty bad shape. Sprinkle with extra parm if you want.

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postcard

Whenever I travel, my sister asks for a postcard. I always buy a few. I usually write at least one. Sometimes I even get a stamp. Rarely does a card hit a foreign mailbox. Almost always, the cards are hand-delivered. And while one of the postcards has already been signed, stamped, sent, and received, until the others arrive, this post(card) will have to do.

Last month, my friend Sarah and I crisscrossed the Portugal-Spain border. The day I stumbled into Lisbon, still recovering from my red-eye and transfer in Munich, Sarah welcomed me with a box of pastéis de nata. Our time in Portugal revolved around these incredible custard tarts in a caramelized crust. Sarah wanted to sample pastéis de nata from every corner bakery and pasteleria we passed, but once I tried the original from Pastéis de Belém, I couldn’t go back to mere copies. I loved the ones in Belém so much that on our last day in Lisbon, we took a €15 taxi for one final taste. And we did take in a few sights, including ducks, peacocks, and a couple of Portuguese good luck symbols in a little park near our hotel.

If Lisbon was all about the sweet, then Seville was all about the savory and the sensual. (Ahem … tapas and flamenco.)

We started our time in Seville with a tapas tour. Best. Idea. Ever. What better re-introduction to a city I hadn’t visited since college than a four hour (tapas) bar crawl with a virtual local (Shawn) who can find food to satisfy any taste? I like fish and vegetables, Sarah wanted to try everything. And Shawn navigated our preferences as easily as she navigated around the Sunday after-churchgoers vying for space up against the bar under dozens of jamón hanging from the ceiling like the pots and pans that adorn my own kitchen. She also armed us for our own gourmand adventures over the next few days with lists of restaurant recommendations and real-time tweets about where to go and when to show up to guarantee a table early or to catch the kitchen before it closed.

Sarah’s done a great job of cataloging her favorite stops. Just like I can’t stop thinking about the best pastéis de nata in Belém, I keep replaying in my mind our meal at La Azotea until my mouth waters (as cliché as that sounds). After several days of largely fried foods, I was craving more vegetables than salmorejo could offer (more on that cousin of gazpacho in just a bit). La Azotea delivered.

We were greeted and seated just before 1:00 at one of only six tables. Just in time, too, because by 1:15, all six of those tables were filled and the waiters could barely squeeze past the lunching crowd crowding the bar.  Lucky for us, owner Juan helped us choose lunch and wine and dessert. Course after course,we pulled out our cameras and peppered Juan with questions.

When I asked for a recommendation on a good local wine store, Juan slipped out the front door with us, crossed the street and unlocked the door to Vinos y Más. Only open in the evening, the restaurant’s wine bar is filled with some of Spain’s best goodies, from local wines and olive oils lining two walls to cheeses and meats behind a glass case. Wine barrels scattered in the small space serve as high-top tables. I leaned against one as Juan helped me pick out several wines to bring home (to be carried back, as usual, in my suitcase).

When we finally followed the scent of orange blossoms  back to Santa Cruz, it was nearly 5:00 pm.

After days of stuffing ourselves with tapas and walking from monument to cathedral to clothing store, we dedicated our nights to flamenco. We saw one,  sometimes two shows a night: in tablaos like my favorite El Arenal and the more commercial Los Gallos; at Museo del Baille Flamenco – the flamenco museum where I also took a flamenco dance class (!!); at La Carbonería (Levíes, 18), a hidden-from-the-street almost subterranean bar with a nightly flamenc0 gathering at 11:00 pm. Clearly we should have hit La Carbonería before our last night when we had to catch a midnight bus back to Lisbon.

Flamenco is all about the interplay between the dance, the music, and the song. Assuming that I would mainly watch the dancer, I found myself again and again drawn to the guitarist’s fingers strumming, plucking, tapping the strings and reflected in the dancer’s expression and fanning hands.

My dance training always emphasized that even the most difficult step should appear light and effortless. In flamenco, emotion is at the fore and effort-full movement follows. They literally dance from the soles of their feet to the tips of their fingers. The result is passion. It’s not always pretty, but it’s very very real. (Can you tell I’m planning to take some more classes?)


Don’t worry…I didn’t forget about that salmorejo  recipe I promised. Every day (sometimes twice a day) I ate this tomato-only, slightly thicker with the addition of more day-old bread, riff on gazpacho. Or maybe gazpacho is a riff on salmorejo. Luckily, I love them both.

Salmorejo



Salmorejo is a creamy chilled tomato soup thickened with bread. It is traditionally served with a sprinkle of diced egg and ham.

Gather.

- 8-12 ripe tomatoes

- 2 garlic cloves

- 1/4 C sherry vinegar (can substitute wine vinegar)

- sea salt to taste (I used ~2 t)

- 3/4 C extra virgin olive oil

- 2/3 day old baguette (~200 gm) — in a pinch, I’ve used pita!

- Fruity olive oil (Spanish arbequina is perfect for salmorejo – if you can’t get it in Spain, Unió is my favorite and available online and at Whole Foods)

- 2 eggs

Purée. Core and roughly chop the tomatoes. You can peel them for a smoother consistency, but I haven’t found that it makes an appreciable difference. Throw them in blender with the garlic and purée. A lot. The mix will be a light red. Add vinegar, salt, and regular olive oil. Keep puréeing until smooth and orange. This can take a few minutes. You might need to do it in 2 batches.

Soak. Tear up the bread and drop into the blender with the tomato mixture. Let soak for about 15 minutes until soggy.

Boil. Hard boil the eggs. Cool.

Purée again. Once the bread is good and soggy, purée until smooth and even lighter orange.

Garnish. Drizzle with a special fruity olive oil and sprinkle with chopped egg (and ham if you want).



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get the meal started

A few weeks ago, I made my first shabbat dinner in months. Many, many months. I  fretted about the burnt chicken, the apple-pear galette that cracked, the salad poorly dressed. But the one thing I could rely on was the mushroom soup. It’s the absolute essence of mushroom. And the recipe is little more than sautéeing several handfuls of sliced mushrooms with shallots, throwing together a roux to thicken things up a bit, and adding broth and sherry. Then a quick buzz with an immersion blender and voilà — creamy thick mushroom soup. Garnish with a few chives and we’re ready to get the meal started.

 

Mushroom Soup

Makes a lot, but our party of 5 finished the entire pot. Probably should serve up to 8.

I adapted this from two wild mushroom soups – one from Levana Kirschbaum and one from Carole Sobell. I left out Levana’s soy milk, but added her sherry and used flour instead of Sobell’s cornstarch. I kept her thyme as well, but dropped the saffron. I kept Sobell’s simplicity and her chives turned the soup from good to spectacular with just a hint of bite and sharpness.

- 2 cloves garlic

- 6 shallots

- 3 T margarine

- 2.5 lbs assorted mushrooms (I used a mix of white button and cremini) – about 4-5 cups

- several branches of thyme

- 1/3 C flour

- 5 C vegetable (or chicken) broth

- 1 C dry sherry (I used Tio Pepe Zerez Palomino Fino) or vermouth

- chives

Prep. There’s a lot of chopping going on here. Finely hop the garlic and shallots fine. Clean and slice the mushrooms any which way you want.

Sauté. Melt the margarine in a big soup pot. Sauté the garlic and shallots over low heat until translucent (try not to let them color). Add the mushrooms and thyme and continue to sauté for another 8-10 minutes or so. Add the flour to the pot and cook for 2-3 minutes, mixing to make sure there are no lumps. Add broth and sherry and simmer for ~15 minutes. Remove the thyme branches, which by now should be bare of leaves. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Blend. Whip the soup with an immersion blender until smooth. You can also pass the soup through a sieve, but I didn’t bother.

Serve. Ladle into bowls and snip a few chives over top.

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